Food is essential to human life. As such, it must be provided to consumers everywhere in sufficient quantities in sustainable, stable and resilient ways. And yet, according to the latest estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), contained in its report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021, between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019, while nearly 2.37 billion people didn’t have access to adequate food that year – an increase of 320 million people in just one year.
These are gloomy figures indeed, and the FAO further points out that no region of the world has been spared. It also states that the high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep these foods out of reach for around 3 billion people, and that the increased unaffordability of healthy diets is associated with higher levels of food insecurity.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, there’s strong and growing awareness that food systems need to be transformed so that they provide nutritious and affordable food for all. It’s also been identified that food systems of the future need to provide decent livelihoods for the people who work within them.
A positive element in this landscape is that aquatic foods – wild-caught and farmed – tick these boxes and more besides. Fish and shellfish are therefore being increasingly recognised for their role in food security and nutrition, not just as a source of protein, but also as a unique and extremely diverse provider of essential omega-3 fatty acids and also essential nutrients that are scarce in plant-based diets. In this regard, most health organisations have long advocated the inclusion of fish or seafood in the human diet a minimum of two to three times a week.
Many supply chains can also stand up to close consumer scrutiny in terms of their environmental responsibility, ethical sourcing and production processes, sustainability, transparency and trust. The wild-capture and aquaculture sectors can, for example, offer proteins that have a much smaller carbon footprint than those of other animal-based foods. Furthermore, aquatic foods often represent a more affordable source of protein – cheaper and more accessible than other animal protein sources.
In another of its well-respected reports, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 (or SOFIA), the FAO declares that prioritising and better integrating fisheries and aquaculture products in global, regional and national food system strategies and policies should be “a vital part of the necessary transformation of our agrifood systems”.
The good news is that the eating of seafood has long been on an upwards growth trajectory with SOFIA reporting that the global per capita consumption has doubled since the 1960s – from a level of 9.9 kg to 20.2 kg in 2020. The average annual rise has also consistently outpaced both the world population increase and the growth in consumption of all other animal protein foods and all terrestrially-produced meats.
The FAO further expects that rising incomes and urbanisation, improvements in post-harvest practices and changes in dietary trends will lead to a 15% increase in aquatic food consumption – to supply on average 21.4 kg per capita in 2030.
With healthy eating having become a dominant trend in food consumption, the long-term global demand for seafood is certain to continue to rise at an increasing rate. Again fortunately, it’s widely maintained that while covering 71% of Earth’s surface, the world ocean still only contributes 2% to the world’s food supply on a caloric basis. And with any substantial increase to terrestrial food production unlikely due to declining yield rates and general land and freshwater scarcity, the seafood economy knows the onus is on it to provide much, much more healthy and sustainable food.